VALENCIA, Spain, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Two weeks after his near-miss in Montreal, Michael Schumacher on Friday dismissed suggestions that he could finally register a podium finish again in this weekend's European Grand Prix.
Schumacher, 42, winner of seven drivers' world titles, set the fourth-best time in his Mercedes in Friday's opening practice sessions for Sunday's race.
But afterwards he was quick to play down any hopes of improving to take a top-three finish in Sunday's race around the Mediterranean port of this Spanish east-coast city.
"Forget the podium, we are not strong enough for that," he told reporters after practice.
"The Ferraris are very strong and we are behind the McLarens and the Red Bulls. If we are lucky, we might catch one of those teams, but we must be lucky.
"That's too far away from the podium. I don't think that the pace is good enough. It's one thing for a lap and it looked reasonable, but that depends on how good a lap the other guys got in. The other question is long-run performance because we usually drop off a little bit on that."
Schumacher will be starting his 275th race on Sunday - a landmark that he will barely wish to celebrate.
The only man to have started more races is his former Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Rubens Barrichello who this weekend takes part in his 311th race.
After his bold efforts in recent weeks to claim a podium for Mercedes - culminating in that luckless fourth place finish in Canada earlier this month - there has been a growing sentimental support for Schumacher.
"Sure, I want to do well and I want to enjoy it all the time," he said. "But I have always said it is not easy to win in Formula One. And this is going to be a long job this time."
His Mercedes team-mate and fellow-German Nico Rosberg was eighth-fastest in a session led by home hero and two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.